“It was like coming home, but to no place that I’d ever known.” Tom Hanks’ words in Sleepless in Seattle recurred to me after an hour spent imbibing the hearty food and revivifying ambience of Elsa y Fred, a bona-fide superstar of a culinary establishment in the heart of one of Europe’s great conurbations.
That Barcelona is a place packed full of good places to eat and drink goes without saying. But what more do you need and want, whether as a tourist or as a citizen of the city? To my mind, the greatness of Iberian cuisine is that it doesn’t lend itself to grandness and formality. Tapas – the word stems from the days of rutted roads, when the cost of food transportation ensured that diners were offered whatever happened to be simmering in the ‘tapa’ or pot – is best eaten elbow-to-elbow, among hearty, generous and relaxed company.
Elsa y Fred fits that model to a ‘T’. Owned by two Argentine sisters, Camila and Sofía, and overseen by head chef Ramón, the aim, in their own words, was to “create [a] wonderful place where you can go for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, drinks, or weekend brunch. They’ve achieved this and more. Our 12-strong group, assembling here to celebrate the 40th birthday of one of our ensemble, had flown in from all over Europe (and in the case of one of us, from Australia). Elsa y Fred isn’t hard to find. Simply locate the Carrer de Trafalgar or the Passeig de Lluís Companys,both equidistant from the Arc de Triomf, and then head for the cobbles of Carrer del Rec Comtal.
We headed for our long, table at the rear of the restaurant and settled in. The waiting staff was conscientious and busy, always available to listen, whether to add an extra chair, extra dish, or extra bottle of wine or water. We started heavy on the fish, veg and carbs, opting for dishes including the patatas bravas, grilled squid and salmon sashimi, and heaps of tomatoes and chorizo. Wine was served, conversation flowed, water topped up the tanks. Within minutes of arriving, we felt completely at home – just as Elsa y Fred would have wanted. The same appeared true across the restaurant, to judge by the smiles on the faces of the other patrons.
If it is hard to find fault with the place, that is perhaps because they don’t try too hard. There isn’t a sense of seeking to impress anyone, just in seeking to make the customer happy. And it works any time of the day. In the mornings it's a sunny spot for breakfast or brunch; by the afternoon it’s a charming location to stop for afternoon tea; and as the sun sets, it turns into a trendy buzzing restaurant with a happy, lively crowd.
Using seasonal produce, the restaurant offers homemade dishes with a distinct international flavour. Classic style tapas are reinvented and served with Mediterranean and eastern influences, dishes are original, beautiful cooked and you definitely don't leave feeling hungry. Try the Cantabrian anchovies, the bitter raspberry gazpacho with tomato tartar and smoked eel, and the grilled octopus with artichoke puree and watercress. And for desert, the chocolate coulant with raspberries and beets or the white chocolate panacotta with mango and passion fruit
Elsa y Fred was a hit with us. Super-friendly service and prices that won't break the bank. As good for two as it is for a crowd, this eclectic fun space is definitely worth a visit.